5GE vs. LTE: What's the Difference?

How 5GE and 4G LTE match up

5GE and LTE are just two abbreviations among several that are used to describe the technology behind what makes your cell phone work. Many of us have been hearing about LTE several years now, but 5GE is a newer term sometimes used within the context of a 5G network.

So, which one should you lean toward if you could pick a preferred network? Is one faster than the other or are they just marketing terms that don’t mean much in the real world?

5GE vs LTE
 Lifewire

Overall Findings

5GE
  • AT&T's term for 4G LTE-A or LTE+.

  • An improvement on LTE.

  • Peak downloads over three times as fast as LTE.

LTE
  • An older form of 5GE.

  • Often incorrectly considered 4G.

  • An improvement over 3G.

  • Slower than 5GE.

Depending on who you talk to, 5GE and LTE could be considered somewhat synonymous, or even polar opposites. They're both used to describe a standard that dictates things like speed over a mobile network. One is faster and newer than the other.

One way to think about these terms is to see them on a spectrum. 5GE is an improvement that goes above what LTE is capable of. But they're both still in use today depending on where you have mobile service and what carrier you use.

Newer Standard: 5GE Is Really 4G, But LTE Is 3.9G

5GE
  • Also called LTE-A and LTE+.

  • It's considered true 4G.

  • Incorrectly called 5G.

LTE
  • A lesser form of 5GE.

  • An improvement over the original 3G.

  • Incorrectly called 4G.

Part of identifying which network type is better and how 5GE and LTE differ involves untangling the confusion around 4G jargon. Put simply: 5GE is an advanced form of LTE that sometimes goes by the name LTE+ or LTE-A (for Advanced). It's faster and more reliable.

When it was first introduced, the specification required that for a device to be 4G-compatible, it would require a minimum download speed of 100 Mbps. When companies couldn’t reach that minimum, they came up with a term to describe an “almost 4G” speed; a technology that was on its way to true 4G. This is where 4G Long Term Evolution (4G LTE) was born.

Although it seems like 4G LTE should be better and faster than 4G because of the extra letters, it’s actually a lesser form. You can think of it as a light version of 4G or even an advanced form of 3G (it's sometimes called 3.9G). It sits in the middle of the two.

As LTE was improved upon, another effort was made to describe an even newer tech: 4G LTE Advanced (also called 4G LTE-A and 4G LTE+). Where it gets confusing is that 4G LTE-A also has a minimum download speed of 100 Mbps, the same as 4G. So, technically, 4G LTE-A could be considered 4G.

So where does 5GE fall in all of this? Just like how LTE is used to describe an evolution toward 4G, AT&T uses 5G Evolution to describe 4G’s path toward 5G. They call it the foundation and launchpad for 5G. You could also consider it a "pre-5G" network.

The strategy there is to make it seem like their network is better than the 4G network offered by other companies. There's just one problem: the two terms are actually identical. 4G LTE-A = 5GE. When AT&T puts 5GE on their phones or talks about 5G Evolution, they’re really referring to 4G LTE-A.

Putting it all together with the above in mind is now a lot easier: 5GE and 4G LTE-A are the same, and it's newer and faster than 4G LTE.

Performance: 5GE Is 3x Faster

5GE
  • 1 Gbps peak download speeds.

  • 500 Mbps peak upload speeds.

  • Latency under 5 ms.

LTE
  • 300 Mbps peak download speeds.

  • 75 Mbps peak upload speeds.

  • Latency under 10 ms.

We’ve learned that 5GE is actually just a rebranded 4G LTE-A, so the question now is really how 4G LTE+ and 4G LTE differ.

There are two things most people care most about when it comes to an upgraded network: speed and latency. Like all new wireless standards, each new iteration brings a new minimum speed and latency requirement, and upgraded theoretical download and upload maximums.

At least theoretically, 4G LTE Advanced should be able to reach speeds multiple times higher than 4G LTE (1,000 Mbps vs 300 Mbps download speeds). While interference, cell tower load, and other things affect the real-world downloads and uploads that you'd get on either type of network, LTE+, by definition, should be able to hit faster downloads and lower latencies than LTE.

5GE has other improvements beyond just true 4G speeds, like more reliable connections. Smoother transitions as you move between cell towers and a greater capacity for more users means fewer dropped connections.

Capacity is measured by spectral efficiency. LTE's downlink spectral efficiency is as high as 2.67 bits/s/Hz, while 5GE's is 3.7 bits/s/Hz. As for uplink, LTE sits at 0.08 bits/s/Hz and 5GE at 0.12 bits/s/Hz. The higher the better here, so 5GE is the clear winner.

More efficient antennas and base stations also mean 4G LTE-A networks can provide better coverage than the older ones.

Final Verdict: LTE Can't Quite Match 5GE

Without question, 5GE (4G LTE+) is an improved version of LTE. We see this in its speed and connection reliability enhancements. Lower latency and faster maximum speeds mean that your downloads and streams are much quicker.

Unlike 5G—which is not the same as 5GE—you don't have to get a new phone to "upgrade" from LTE to LTE+. Your phone most likely supports both, so connecting to the faster network is as easy as using your phone like normal. Depending on the carrier you have and where you're located, you could be using LTE or LTE+ basically anywhere at any time.